Photographing Paintings, a Few Suggestions | Part 2


Finished pastel painting with “QPcard 101” next to it as reference.

In last week’s blog I discussed the importance of obtaining high quality photographic files of paintings. No matter if you consider yourself a hobbyist or an aspiring professional, having high quality images will prove invaluable at some point in your painting career.

We covered Image Quality and Image Type last week. This week, we’ll pick up where we left off with Image/Picture Type. This setting is very helpful if you are working with JPEG images. JPEGs are processed in-camera and since the camera doesn’t know of what it is taking a picture or how you want your finished images to appear, it will internally process color, saturation and contrast as programmed. For casual photographic needs, a general category may work well and match your personal aesthetic. Most cameras come out of the box set for high contrast and color saturation. This often creates vivid landscapes that please the general public but can produce over-saturated, high contrast renditions. If your camera allows you to set it for “Neutral” or “Natural”, you will find that the JPEG produced will be closer to your painting.

The White Balance setting is based on the color temperature of the lighting. “Auto White Balance” is the most common setting and for most photographic needs will work well. The camera reads the general color of the reflected scene and balances for an even lighting effect. If your painting is dominated by a certain color or is being photographed in an unusual lighting situation, this can confuse the sensor and produce an image that is vastly different in appearance. If you know the type of lighting you are shooting under, you can set the camera for that specific lighting. “Custom White Balance” is another useful setting built into most digital cameras. This allows the user to point the camera towards a photographic white or gray card to read the color temperature of the light source. Once set, no matter what colors are contained within the painting, it will be accurate.

Often paintings are photographed in weak lighting situations, like studios. Placing a camera on a tripod and utilizing a time delayed shutter release can allow an adequate exposure to be made without producing blurring.

Whether you use the above suggestions or not, placing a photographer’s reference card in the photo frame with the artwork will always be beneficial. These cards have been widely used by photographers when critical color renditions are required. One of the most common used today is a “QPcard 101”. This simple little card, made up of three values, is one of the most helpful references you can place next to your painting.

If RAW files are being shot, most of the above-mentioned suggestions are moot because no internal image processing is being done in-camera. This makes the QPcard, or another photographic reference card, the benchmark for processing and adjustment. Even with a JPEG, the card sets a neutral standard for in-computer manipulation.

The final suggestion is to always retain the original digital file. Work with a file copy when making adjustments and alterations. By retaining the original, you can always go back and start over.

If you have adjusted your camera settings for photographing artwork, remember that when finished you need to reset them for casual reference photography. Otherwise, you will not like the results.

There are many aspects involved in photographing artwork. If you can afford a professional, hire one. Otherwise, educate yourself to best record your creations for posterity.




Did you know that the instruction Richard McKinley has shared in the Pastel Pointers blog and magazine columns has been collected into a book? The book by the same name is available now for pre-orders and will be ready for shipping in late November. Click here to check it out in the NorthLight Shop.

You may also like these articles: